Doug Ford’s Tories accused of holding ‘secret conversations’ before controversial municipal governance changes


As Premier Doug Ford’s initial strong-mayor legislation was proclaimed into law, his government is being battered for its even more controversial follow up.

The Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act — giving new budgetary and staffing powers to Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe — came into effect Wednesday.

At the same time, the subsequent Better Municipal Governance Act, which would enable strong mayors to pass bylaws with just one-third support of council, was leaving the Conservatives on the defensive.

“The status quo does not work,” said Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark, who stressed he would eventually extend similar authority to other municipalities to fast-track housing construction.

Even though the strong-mayor scheme was never broached in the June 2 election campaign — it was first revealed by the Star on July 19 — Clark insisted the Tories have been forthright with Ontarians.

“The fact that our government is advancing the strong-mayor powers over and above Toronto and Ottawa is not something that the premier has hidden in any way, in any shape, or in any form,” the minister told the legislature.

“When we tabled this bill, the Strong Mayors, Building Homes Act, almost immediately upon the election, we made it very clear that we were going to put a plan in place not just to give the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa strong-mayor powers,” he said.

“The premier was extremely transparent in communicating that we were going to continue that opportunity to other regions.”

NDP MPP Bhutila Karpoche (Parkdale-High Park) said there has been little transparency throughout the Tories’ municipal governance revamp.

“We learned that the mayor of Toronto and the premier were having these backroom conversations as far back as this summer,” said Karpoche, pointing to Tory’s request to Ford for even more powers.

“This is how the government operates: secret conversations behind closed doors,” she said.

“We saw that with the cuts to the Greenbelt. Backdoor meetings led to results for wealthy donor developers at the expense of the interests of the people of Ontario.”

That was a reference to Clark’s surprise Nov. 4 announcement that the government had changed its mind and would open up 7,400 acres of protected Greenbelt lands to developers for housing.

In return, it would add 9,400 acres in different areas to the existing two million acres of agricultural, wetlands and other environmentally sensitive land.

“Will the premier stop his backroom deals with donors and serve in the interests of the public?” Karpoche demanded during the legislature’s morning question period.

Clark countered the governance and Greenbelt moves are necessary because “we’re in the middle of a housing crisis.”

To alleviate that, the Tories have pledged to build 1.5 million homes in the next decade.

“Our best year in 30 years was last year, when we had over 100,000 starts,” said the minister, emphasizing that is well below the average annual construction of 150,000 homes needed to meet the goal.

“We need to ensure that mayors across the province have all the tools that they need to get shovels in the ground faster. We need to ensure that we have a plan in place to build those 1.5 million homes.”

Under the law that took effect Wednesday, the mayors of Toronto and Ottawa have the power to hire and fire city managers and department heads — though not police chiefs — and can only be overruled by a vote of two-thirds of council.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie


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